Doug Anderson is a little worried about what will happen Tuesday night. The fact that he and his wife are pulling up stakes and moving halfway around the world later this summer isn’t what’s tugging at him right now; it’s Tuesday night’s postseason sports banquet at Osseo High School.
Anderson, who got the Osseo adapted sports programs off the ground in 1995 and has been coaching there ever since, saw his final competition at Saturday’s state adapted softball tournament at Coon Rapids. His CI (cognitively impaired) team qualified for state and finished the season with a 12-5 record. The Orioles lost to South Suburban 23-13 in Friday’s state quarterfinals and fell to Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee 11-6 Saturday in the consolation bracket.
In August Anderson and his wife Sheila will move to Kuwait to teach at a private school. Sheila, recently retired from Osseo High School, teaches English and Doug will teach physical education and work as the athletic director at the Universal American School in a suburb of Kuwait City.
That’s all to come, though. Tuesday night is the immediate challenge.
“Tuesday night will be kind of my final closure with the program,” Anderson said during Saturday’s state tourney. “I’m kind of a sap anyway, so I imagine there will be a few tears flowing.”
Osseo activities director Ray Kirch uses words like “selfless” and “legend” and “icon” to describe Anderson and what he has meant to the athletes at Osseo.
“Doug has done great things for our special needs kids for years,” Kirch said. “We’re going to miss him like crazy.”
Anderson knows that he will miss all the athletes he has coached, and that includes a wide range of ages. He holds alumni games every year, and at the alumni softball game last week he asked one of his former players how old he was.
“I said, ‘Kenny, how old are you now?’ He said, ‘35 on my next birthday.’ I have one seventh-grader on the team now; Kenny is 34 and Alex is 14. I said, ‘Kenny, you were done playing for me before he was even born.’ We had the oldest player in the program and the youngest player in the program. It was pretty cool.
“I look forward to those alumni games more than anything else because I get to see them all, everybody whose lives you’ve touched.”
It’s impossible to quantify how many lives Anderson and all the adaptive coaches in Minnesota have touched. Saturday’s softball tournament was rock-solid evidence of the value of adapted athletics. After Osseo’s PI (physically impaired) team won the consolation championship with a 10-0 victory over Wayzata/Minnetonka, Orioles coach Al Chuba spoke to the team in the Coon Rapids cafeteria.
Standing next to the trophy that the team was taking home, Chuba said to the athletes, parents, grandparents and siblings, “Enjoy this. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Everyone was beaming. There were no downcast faces at finishing fifth in an eight-team tournament. It was an absolutely joyful moment during a day filled with them.
“This is just so much fun, working with these kids,” said Anderson. “A lot of them, they accomplish so little but they try so hard. And that’s gratifying. This gives these kids, whether they’re physically impaired or cognitively impaired, the opportunity to be part of a high school activity and have a chance to letter, to earn the same trophies and the same medals that they see the hockey players and the basketball players get on TV. It’s a great program.
“I was a college athlete, I coached baseball in college and I coached high school sports. But working with these kids, they give you 100 percent all the time, whether it’s the first day of practice or the last game of the state tournament. They go hard and they give their best. The parents are great and they’re grateful for the program.”
Kirch said Kelli Waalk, one of Anderson’s assistant coaches, will take over for him when the new school year begins.
“It’s tough to replace a legend, a guy who’s been kind of an icon in our adapted programs, but she’ll be a great replacement,” Kirch said.
Anderson, 57, is taking a leave of absence from his job at Osseo in order to work in Kuwait. While he and Sheila were celebrating their 25th anniversary in Hawaii 10 years ago, they met a couple who were retired teachers but had been working at schools in exotic places.
“They were having the time of their life,” Doug said. “We thought, ‘Geez, it would be fun if we could do that when we get to that point in our life.’ I guess we’re at that point in our life. We’ll do two years there. If we like it we’ll do two more. The plan is that we’ll probably be gone for four years.”
The Andersons will depart for Kuwait in early August.
“For a couple of farm kids from west-central Minnesota, this is a pretty big adventure,” Doug Anderson said with a smile. “We’ve been thinking about it and talking about it for 10 years. When my wife knew she was going to retire, we started looking into it.”
They went to a job fair at the University of Northern Iowa in February, where the Kuwaiti connection began.
“We interviewed with this school and they made an offer we couldn’t refuse,” Doug said.
Everyone who knows the Andersons wishes them well on the next chapter in their lives.
“A lot of us wouldn’t have the guts to try something like that," Kirch said. "But Doug’s an adventuresome person and so is Sheila. We just hope they have a great experience. They’ll do wonderful things for those kids in Kuwait.”
But first, there’s the matter of Tuesday night’s banquet … and farewell party.
“I’m going to have a hole in my heart on this one,” Anderson said.
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